According to a lawsuit filed against Microsoft on Thursday, the software giant has engaged in deceptive marketing practices around Windows Vista. The suit claims that Redmond labeled PCs "Windows Vista Capable" even though the computers could only run the most basic level of the new operating system.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The plaintiff is seeking class action status and damages. The suit estimates Microsoft has likely defrauded more than 10,000 people with damages totaling over $5 million.
At issue is a marketing campaign Microsoft launched before Vista was officially released. That campaign gave PC makers the authority to put a sticker on new machines to let customers know that the computer was capable of running Vista.
Vista Suit Specifics
However, according to the suit, "a large number" of those PCs were not designed to run Vista versions that offer more robust functions, such as enhanced graphic capabilities. Microsoft advertises those features as part of Vista, the suit alleges, but the features in the Home Basic Version installed on the machines do not match what was promised in the marketing campaign.
In fact, the suit goes on to note that many of the PCs that don the Vista label either have problems running or cannot run the Home Premium version of Vista. Home Premium is the least expensive version of the new operating system that includes the more advanced features Vista boasts about in its ads.
The suit allegations don't end there. The plaintiff also claims that Microsoft only offered the Home Basic version to many consumers who bought "Windows Vista Capable" machines on the promise that they would receive free or low-cost Vista upgrades when the program was released.
"In sum, Microsoft engaged in bait and switch -- assuring consumers they were purchasing 'Vista Capable' machines when, in fact, they could obtain only a stripped-down operating system lacking the functionality and features that Microsoft advertised as 'Vista,'" the suit reads. The suit concluded that consumers were buying machines that couldn't run "the real Vista."
Vista Marketing Argument
Carole Handler, vice chair of the litigation practice group at Foley & Lardner LLP, is not surprised that Redmond is under attack for its Vista marketing practices. The company is a natural target because of its marketplace dominance, she said.
Although she declined to comment on the merits of the case, Handler argued that Microsoft shouldn't be surprised by the lawsuit, either, because companies with major market power are subject to greater scrutiny as evidenced by the recent lawsuits against Google.
"The plaintiff's argument will likely be that Microsoft is using deceptive trade practices and advertising practices to retain its competitive advantage and to remain the standard. If Microsoft is found liable there would be significant liability," Handler noted.
Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment, but the company's legal counsel has publicly stated that it "conducted a very broad and unprecedented effort" to help PC makers, retailers, and consumers understand the hardware requirements to run the many different Vista versions.